Film Review: Sully (M15+) (USA, 2016) is an energetic rush for its genre

Tom Hanks, what can we say about Tom Hanks? Quite frankly, it’s hard to say anything bad at all. Despite the rare lacklustre movie, this man just cannot seem to steer anything in the wrong direction. And Sully, out now in Australian cinemas, proves no different, with the venerable actor steering both a movie and its plane to a safe landing.

(Aaron Eckhart & Tom Hanks) Moments before landing on the Hudson River
(Aaron Eckhart & Tom Hanks) Moments before landing on the Hudson River

Sully is the story of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and his First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) who attempts to make an emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River after US Airways Flight 1549 strikes a flock of geese. Being their only option with two blown engines and not sure they could make it back to an airstrip for a safe landing, they miraculously make the water landing and all of the 155 passengers and crew survive the harrowing ordeal. Sully (Sullenberger) becomes a national hero in the eyes of the public and the media. Despite the accolades, the famed pilot now faces an investigation that threatens to destroy his career and reputation.

Director Clint Eastwood – now a spritly 86 years of age – is still going strong, some 52 years since he brought us The Man With No Name. Now, his strengths are behind the camera, and in Sully, Eastwood shows just how he can make a movie from such a short piece of history so intriguing by going behind the scenes of what we saw on the news and how it affected Sully himself as well as his family, first officer and the general public. Some would suggest that with Hanks and Eastwood on board, you can guess it wasn’t going to be a boring re-telling. I could argue that point. A few recent films that didn’t meet expectations such as Hereafter, Invictus and J. Edgar not meeting any of mine. But I went into Sully with a fresh perspective and I am glad I did.

Clint Eastwood with Aaron Eckhart  on the set of Sully
Clint Eastwood with Aaron Eckhart on the set of Sully

The stunning opening of the film shows a nightmare that wakes Sully, gasping for air and sweating profusely, we realise it wasn’t real and that we are seeing the man after the Hudson landing. It shows how the film can handle our fears from the very beginning and sets in motion how we are all going to be viewing the events. The way in which the film shoots its character’s stories after the incident and before is an excellent move on behalf of Todd Komarnicki‘s screen play and Eastwood’s direction. When some true stories are shown on screen in the order from start to finish it can become a slow and sometimes un-interesting affair leading up to the event we all know and want to see.

Aaron Eckhart is fantastic as Sully’s First Officer Jeff Skiles; he plays the role with his head high and about as human as you would want any pilot to be in the situation that was faced. Skiles and Sully towards the end of the movie are seen to have an amazing friendship to which one could not fly without the other.

Sully & Jeff Skiles (Tom Hanks & Aaron Eckhart)
Sully & Jeff Skiles (Tom Hanks & Aaron Eckhart)

The eventual legal issues to which both pilots have to sit through and explain when, how and why they chose to land an Airbus plane in the Hudson river are actually fun to watch. The computer simulations that the plane crash investigators try to use on them as an example of what they could have done differently, go a long way in justifying these two men’s reasoning and shows us, as an audience, just how different humans and computers are. Making me damn sure I really don’t want any computers taking over anytime soon.

The sound design, especially the moment the plane impacts the water was heart-stopping stuff. The special effects are a sight to behold. There was not one moment I looked at the plane or the effects surrounding the near disaster, that I said to myself ‘that looks unrealistic’. Every bit of detail went into making it as believable as possible and you can feel it.

Over the Hudson River
Over the Hudson River

The film’s duration is another strength, clocking in at only 95 minutes. Most movies based on unbelievable true events seem to linger far to long; Sully never outstays its welcome. Maybe the film could have done with a little less of the flashbacks – showing us some of the same scenes over again wasn’t an amazing choice – but otherwise the pacing is excellent.

If you love true stories, air crash investigations, Tom Hanks or Clint Eastwood films, or all of the above then go and see this film. It’s a nice change of pace from some of the other depressingly long biographical dramas. Sully is an energetic rush for its genre. When we first hear those inevitable lines “This is your Captain speaking, brace for impact” you know you’re in for a treat.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Run Time: 95 Minutes

Sully is in cinemas now.